Open range: A way of life or a public safety concern?
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles, with those to come giving the opinions of ranchers, livestock owners and law enforcement.
KINGMAN – Driving through Golden Valley, or any other rural part of Arizona, can be awe-inspiring thanks to the scenery, but if eyes aren’t kept on the road, motorists may run into a big, four-legged problem.
Arizona’s designation as an open-range state is a hot topic, with some seeking to protect what they see as the rights of ranchers and livestock owners while others, like Golden Valley’s Al DiCicco, call it a “public safety issue.”
“It’s a very passionate issue, as you know,” DiCicco said. “A lot of people are really angry because they don’t want to see anything change at all … and other people are like, ‘Hey, your cows are tearing everything up.”
Open range is the policy where cattle are free to roam, and if property owners don’t want the livestock near their homes, they must fence off the property. And if a cow is hit on the roadway, it’s the driver who is at fault. According to Butch Meriwether, who spoke with numerous ranchers earlier this year and reported it in the Daily Miner, the cost to motorists can be between $800 and $1,500 depending on the cow’s weight, gender and the type of cow.
DiCicco isn’t as concerned with cattle near his residence because he likes seeing them, though his dogs not so much. DiCicco’s primary concern is for motorists. He said people are seeing an increase in cattle along, and across, State Route 68 and U.S. 93.
Some agree with his point of view, while others side with open range. Both give their opinions on the Facebook page started by DiCicco, Open Range Abuse and Public Safety Arizona.
He said those who have lived in Arizona for some time know to be on the lookout for cattle while driving, but out-of-towners do not.
“People who live in open range are aware they need to watch for cattle, but we have a lot of visitors, casinos, the highway, traffic from Las Vegas, there’s people from all over the world flying through here,” he said.
DiCicco said it’s especially dangerous at night.
“Like I tell people now, ‘Close your eyes and tell me what color the cow is that’s in front of you,’” he said. “That’s how dark it is when it gets dark out there.”
Mitigating the issue requires all parties to work together and look at the big picture, the Golden Valley resident said.
“It’s a combination of ADOT, safety, fences, and ranchers being in tune with where their cows are a little bit more,” he said, also recommending additional flashing-light signage warning motorists to be vigilant in watching for cattle.
But the concerns of rural residents aren’t the only points of view to be considered. Ranchers and livestock owners have their own takes on the issue, and law enforcement must approach it from a legal standpoint.
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